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August 2007
Superior Audio Equipment Review

Crystal Cable
The power and the glory!
Review By Phil Gold
Click here to e-mail reviewer.

 

Crystal Cable Connect Ultra500 Silver Cable  Don't you love it when a component is drop-dead gorgeous. I'm talking VAC Phi, Sonus Faber Stradivari Homage, and the Oracle Turntable. But whoever heard of a cable that could turn heads. A sexy cable? Come on...

Until now! Yes one company makes sexy looking cables. What's that about? And why should you care?

Actually you should care, because sexy here means slim and flexible, a rare achievement in the realm of high-end wire. Flexibility brings two huge advantages. First, you can put your equipment where you want it, without having to worry about clearance for those stiff cables that bend with the greatest reluctance. It also means mechanical isolation you won't be getting vibration running down the cable or impeding the floating action of your equipment you have so carefully suspended.

 

What's The Technology Here?
Normally flexibility like this comes with sonic compromises. Either the conductance of the cable or the effectiveness of the shielding is impaired, or even both. In this case, the manufacturer claims to have avoided such drawbacks. The flexibility is the direct result of a new combination of materials. If I have the story straight, the initial breakthrough occurred years ago at Siltech Cables in Holland, where Edwin van der Kley discovered a new way to inject gold into silver conductors under ideal conditions so as to fill the gaps between the silver crystals. Siltech has used this revolutionary metallurgy for many years and the latest improvements have made it possible to achieve a surprisingly thin diameter with the same mechanical properties. Conductivity improves remarkably, enabling a thin wire to have the capacity of a much thicker wire made of pure silver or copper. This new alloy also shows much improved malleability, greatly reducing the micro-fractures to which traditional silver or copper cables are so prone to under bending. Since there is much less need to protect the wire against sharp bending, the cable wrap can be much thinner, allowing a slim elegant design.

This was such a breakthrough that Edwin's wife Gabi set up a new company to develop this technical concept which provided the opportunity to introduce high end cables with a new surprising look and a flexibility never achieved before. This company, Crystal Cable, now runs its research and development independently, although production facilities are still shared with Siltech cables. Edwin still runs Siltech, and Gabi now runs Crystal Cable.

All Crystal Cables are based on thin coaxial threads. A new technique is used to perfectly align the metal crystals along the length of the conductor. The ultra thin solid core conductor (0.3mm to 1.2mm) is the straight, stress-free gold infused silver alloy, surrounded by a dual layer helically wound film of flexible Kapton insulator covered by a pure silver shield and a transparent Teflon jacket. Crystal Cable claim remarkable freedom from distortion and airborne noise for this technology, combined with a flat, frequency independent impedance.

All Crystal Power cables, from Piccolo to Reference, use a special geometry a truly balanced system. Two coaxial cables are twisted to achieve the needed amount of conducting wires: the two conductors provide positive and negative, and the two shields together are connected to the ground. The Ultra Power cable is different: there are 4 conductors, connected in pairs, and the ground has a lot of shield. Similarly the Ultra Balanced interconnects offer a fully balanced construction designed to eliminate external noise.

A natural complement to the slim wire is the exquisite transparent acrylic cable covering and eye catching plugs and connectors, all presented in jewelry bags and boxes. The Ultra Power Cord uses Rhodium-plated Furutech 15A FI-25 High End Performance Power Connectors at either end, while the cheaper cables sport Marinco 15A K783 Female and 81290 Male connectors. For added distinction, the Ultras are serial numbered. The Ultra Balanced Interconnects, also numbered, use the excellent Neutrix MC-MX and NC-FX connectors.

All this would be irrelevant if performance didn't match the looks, but as with the Oracle, the VAC, and the Sonus Faber, beauty runs far more than skin deep here. In fact Crystal Cable's top of the line offerings set out to challenge the similarly priced Nordost Valhallas and other exotic wires. Even their entry-level cables are a force to be reckoned with.

 

The Review System
This review concentrates on power cords, and I selected from the bottom (Piccolo), middle (Standard) and top (Ultra) of the range, in duplicate so I could wire up both the EMM Labs CDSA Player and the Perreaux Radiance R200i Integrated amp. The full range of Power cables in ascending order of price is Piccolo, Micro, Standard, Reference and Ultra. I also added top of the line Crystal Cable Ultra Balanced interconnects into the mix.

My reference speaker cables (Nordost Valhalla Triwire) feed Wilson Benesch Act 1 Speakers. A Nordost Thor Power Distribution System completes the system. The idea is to compare the 3 sets of power cables to each other, and to some other power cables on hand, and then to compare the Crystal Ultra interconnects to Valhallas. But just to complicate things, I tried switching the power cables out individually as well as in pairs, and the number of combinations drove me close to despair. Big spiral notepads to the rescue!

The sound in my system has taken another leap forward lately with the introduction of the EMM Labs SACD player to the mix, just in time for this demanding review. Only the finest SACD recordings were used in the making of this review. No animals were harmed.

 

Valhalla Or Ultra?
The all-Valhalla system is my everyday reference, and basically it just gets out of the way and lets the music through, which is about all you can ask of a cable.

Some of you will be wondering how the Ultra compares to the much thicker but similarly priced Valhalla. The news on that score is that they are both sensationally good. Both reach way down low and way up high with ease. More to the point, both project an image that is deep, stable and realistic. I had to work very hard to tell which was playing if I didn't look behind the rack.

The similarities far outweigh the differences. I don't think I've ever found two sets of cables so close to each other in sound. This may mean that both are approaching the ultimate goal of perfect neutrality.

But there are some subtle differences, which I detected with prolonged listening. Valhalla is a touch dark next to the Ultra, whose top end seems rather more open. In terms of detail, the Ultra just has the edge, while the Valhalla tips the scales in presence. Neither shows any sign of compression, distortion or loss of color. Neither cable favors any particular kind of music. Both maintain massive dynamic range when the recording allows, realistic instrumental tone on piano, bass, drums, wind and strings, and render a better account of the human voice than any other cables I've tried.

On some tracks I found the Valhalla to be slightly less involving than the Ultra, maybe due to the deep bass which is more prominent on the Valhalla but not quite as quick. The Ultra's sense of swing is most impressive. On other tracks, particularly involving guitar music, the Valhallas pulled ahead because the accidentals were somewhat reduced in level. There was also a better integration of the audio spectrum with the Valhallas where the Ultras sometimes seem to spotlight the highs.

So these are both superb achievements, as you should demand at this price. I'd have to give my vote to the Crystal Ultra because it is so much more flexible, an important characteristic in the close confines of my custom equipment rack.

Wait a minute! This is for 3 Ultras against 3 Valhallas (2 power + 1 pair of interconnects). What if I just switch the interconnects? Well, I hear the same differences as before, while switching the power cords has almost no effect. So I conclude that interconnects make a bigger difference than power cords when switching between Valhalla and Ultra. I can also confirm that when comparing between cables of this caliber, speaker cables have a much greater impact on the sound than either interconnects or power cables.

 

Ultra Or Standard?
Now let's see what happens as I move down from the Ultra power cords to the Standard power cords. This time the difference is not so subtle. The music is not quite as relaxed, the background less black, the treble brighter and more forward. Presence has dropped down a notch, bass is a little looser and less detailed while the treble is a little tizzy at times. But I've saved an absolute fortune. The Ultras are more than 4 times the price of the Standards, but I haven't given up that much in performance. It still makes for wonderful listening, tone color is true and images remain holographic.

 

Standard Or Piccolo?
When I switch to the Piccolos at half the price again, well, I'm in shock. Sure, the sound is less full, the image has retreated a small distance towards the speakers, and the level of detail is not quite so high. Some of the excitement is missing as presence takes another hit. But I'm still enjoying the music enormously, the bass weight and extension are all there, tone color is still rich and the performance is distortion free. Here is a true glimpse of the high end at a relatively modest price and with a wire so thin you'd think it's fragile (it's not).

This was not what I was expecting. I was sure I would lose bass extension and instrumental color as I dropped through the range, and I didn't. In a way I felt I was just further away from the performers, and the ambiance and three dimensionality of the recording was somewhat reduced. Both of these factors may be due to the loss of that wonderful black background the Ultra and Valhalla offer, which makes the music stand out so clearly.

 

Step By Step
Now instead of changing the power cords in tandem, let's go one at a time. I'll start with the integrated amp. The Perreaux is a very powerful transistor amp, feeding a lot of current into the demanding Wilson Benesch speakers. The EMM Labs SACD Player seems to have added another half octave to the bass extension of these speakers, doing wonders for the grand piano in particular, not to mention Paul Chambers' bass. For this test, the SACD Player is hooked up to the Ultra Power Cord, and the interconnects are also Ultras.

I'm guessing that most of the differences in sound I have just heard will be due to the power cord feeding the Perreaux, since the SACD Player has much lower fuel consumption and should be less fussy about the cross section of the conductors. I'm assuming also the main difference between the various Crystal Power Cords is in quantity, not quality of wire. My listening tests confirm these guesses. The power cord to the amp makes a big difference, and the cord to the SACD player much less. But remember, I'm only switching between Crystal Cables here.

The moral to this story is you are getting a much better power cable as you move up the range of Crystal Cables, but that may not necessarily translate into a significantly improved sound on each individual box in your system. Try before you buy. Have I saved you a few bucks?

 

What Else Do I Have Lying Around?
For my next trick, I'll replace the cable to the SACD Player with a regular computer cable. Immediately the image goes flat and the treble rings, a most unpleasant experience. Bass is still there in large quantities, but the focus and precision have dropped off the map. Who says cables don't make a difference?

Let's try some other power cables. A Cardas Golden Power Cable ($450) is a great improvement over the patch cord, but it has neither the ultra-wide bandwidth nor the detail of the Piccolo. To be fair, Cardas cables take quite some time to sound their best when you move them around, and this was a luxury I didn't have in this instance. Next up is the very flexible Soundstring Tricormaxial Power Supply Cord ($304 for 6'), and this proves warmer and richer than the Piccolo, very musical to my ears, but not quite as detailed or powerful in the bass.

So far everything is working out more or less according to price.

 

A Digital Power Cable
A big surprise is the amazing price/performance ratio of the very inexpensive Soundstring Digital Power cable, a cable optimized for digital sources only. You can buy this simple thin white cable with molded plugs for the ridiculously low price of $34 for 6 feet.

The sound is even better than the regular $450 Soundstring Power Cable, edging it out in overall clarity, but only in this one specialized application. If you're going to use it, you may want to make sure none of your audiophile friends see you doing so, because they're going to think you pulled the cable off the electric toaster. In truth, it's not really such a big surprise to me, because I've had the same experience several times before. Here's a case where the cheaper cable walks all over its more expensive brother.

 

Insider Tip
Benjamin Scarcelli, the Canadian distributor of Crystal Cables, tells me that for a small upgrade fee, the factory will supply Piccolo or Standard Power cables fitted with the same high-end Furutech plugs that come standard with the Ultra.

 

The Verdict
Easy to dismiss at first glance, these Crystal Cables offer the well-respected Nordost Valhallas some strong competition.

Here is what I learned:

Even the least expensive Crystal Power Cable, the Piccolo, offers excellent performance and carries a strong recommendation especially for lower powered devices such as CD Players, Tuners, Preamps and DACs. The highlights of this cable are purity, extreme bandwidth, lightening responses and accurate tonal color.

The Standard builds on this performance with increased resolution, dynamics and presence, while widening and deepening the soundstage.

The Ultra is a no holds barred attempt on the state of the art, fully competitive with the Valhalla and much easier to work with. It offers the biggest soundstage, the finest detail and the blackest backgrounds, and I doubt you can reach this level of performance for less.

The law of diminishing returns still applies big time.

Quality is more important than quantity for low current devices. Spend your money where it will have the greatest effect.

 In some systems, flexibility is an enormous advantage. This applies if (like me) you are short of room behind the components or you are trying to decouple your equipment from the equipment stand.

Your system is as strong as its weakest link. Feeding it well (with good cables) allows you to extract the best from your other carefully chosen components.

Purity (a complete lack of distortion) is the signature feature of this range of Crystal Cables.

 

If you have invested in high quality components, you don't want cables that filter out the fine details or reduce the dimensions of the soundstage. I don't believe in using cables as tone controls. If your system needs such editorializing then I recommend you replace the offending component instead. These Crystal Cables do nothing to warm up a clinical presentation, or to smooth over a rough treble. They are honest to a fault, preserving the color, dynamics and presence of the music with vanishingly low distortion and noise. I am happy to recommend them to anyone seeking the state of the art.

 

Manufacturer's Reply
Phil,

  Cables are strange components. You cannot do without they influence your complete system. Power cables are the most important even if you would not think so. Power cables are the first component in your system, filtering distortion in the first place. We are very proud of this review, stating the quality and the influence of our power cables.

Gabi van der Kley

 

Specifications
Type: Interconnect and power cables

Current Retail Prices:
Crystal Power Piccolo (2m) $590
Crystal Power Standard (2m) $1180
Crystal Power Ultra (2m) $3880

Crystal Ultra Balanced Interconnect (1.5m) $5275

 

Company Information
Crystal Cable BV
World Trade Centre Arnhem-Nijmegen
Nieuwe Stationsstraat 10
6811 KS Arnhem
The Netherlands

Voice: +31 26 353 9045
Fax: +31 26 353 9048
E-mail: info@crystalcable.com
Website: www.crystalcable.com

 

Review sample supplied by:
Audio Basics Inc.
3800 Steeles Avenue West
Suite 100E
Vaughan, Ontario
L4L 4G9
Canada

Voice: (905) 303-9232
E-mail: contact@audiobasics.com
Website: www.crystalcable.ca

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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